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Extending the Capacity of Creative Nomad IIc MP3 Players? 51

Posted by Cliff
from the hardware-hacks dept.
A not-so Anonymous Coward asks: "I recently bought a second hand Creative Nomad IIc. I've since found that it is a good little MP3 player, with one slight exception: it's lack of memory. Sixty-four megs of memory was good, but with the 10 and 20 GIG players out now it's a little lacking. Plus, being Canadian has it's downside: with the new 'tax' being applied to anything that can store music (another reference, here), MP3 players are set to double in price. Being the kind of person I am, I'd rather try upgrading my current MP3 player then buy a new one. Are there any ways to attach a laptop hard drive to my Nomad? Are there any Smart Media > IDE converters I could use? Is there any information on how to make one myself?"
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Extending the Capacity of Creative Nomad IIc MP3 Players?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    You need the universal business adapter. It connects anything to anything. I think you can buy a special plug for it to use with Nomads. I've had luck connecting my crisper drawer to a frozen chicken using it.
  • Would it be possible to replace the hard drive from some MP3 players with say, a 40GB laptop hard drive? That would give you virtually limitless MP3 capacity for less than the cost of the cheapest iPod.

    • Some MP3 players, certainly! Just reverse engineer the file format, any hardware keys embedded in the drive firmware/written to the disk, update their (likely totally custom) BIOS to address the drive, etc. There are a bunch of devices out there based on laptop drives, surely some of them will tolerate a replacement.

      (With the iPod, though, it won't work; iPods don't use laptop drives, they use the even smaller PCMCIA (Toshiba?) drives. These tiny drives still don't have the capacity you're used to in a laptop drive.)

      Twist the idea a little, though... what Compact Flash (Type II) players out there can handle an IBM Microdrive? You'll need extra battery capacity and the BIOS to address the drive... but there's a gig of musical goodness for you, in a tiny size.

      Still, I like the solid state ones for a reason -- no moving parts. That way when I'm moving around I don't have to worry about bumping the thing and causing a head crash.

      • Re:Drive Upgrades (Score:3, Informative)

        by biglig2 (89374)
        Reverse engineering etc. may not even be necessary; I've seen mods where people just use a sector copy program to copy the beginning of the existing drive to a newer, high capacity one.

        A correction re: Ipods; they use a real IDE laptop hard drive, not PCMCIA; what differs from other players is that they use the new smaller 1.8" laptop drives rather than the more usual 2.5" drives.

        I'd suggest anyone planning to upgrade a hard disk one stick witha 2.5" model anyhow, as these come in bigger capacities; IBM, for example, have a 60Gb Travelstar. Over 40 days of music, that should last you. ;-)

          • "A correction re: Ipods; they use a real IDE laptop hard drive, not PCMCIA..."
          I have an old 286 laptop with a 40 MB, half-height, 3½-inch drive in it. That doesn't mean all my desktops are now using "laptop" drives, not by a long shot! So, we need some standards here. When referring to hard drives, definitions should be as follows:
          • 5¼" (or larger): "Dinosaur"
          • 3½", full height: "Server"
          • 3½", half height: "Desktop"
          • 2½", (any height): "Laptop"
          • 1.8", less than 10.5mm: "PCMCIA" or "PC Card"
          Tell me, please, why a drive placed in a PCMCIA enclosure isn't a "real" hard drive. Note that I never said it wasn't an ATA drive (the interface "IDE" drives actually use these days)... I just said they were the PCMCIA form-factor drives that I thought (and have now confirmed) Toshiba manufactures.

          Just because a manufacturer uses one as a laptop's main drive doesn't change the fact that it's the same physical size as a PCMCIA card.

          In fact, when the iPod first came out, these drives [toshiba.com] were idendified early on [slashdot.org] as the hardware Apple used.

          Note the "interface" section of the press release:

          • Interface: PC Card ATA -- 68pin AT (ATA-2 through ATA-5)
          Curious.
          • I stand corrected, and research indicates other authorities too.

            Mind you, since I have bought an iPod since I posted my comment, I'm too in love to care!
    • This is indeed possible with many of the Archos mp3 players, which take standard 9.5mm 2.5 inch IDE drives. I don't know what the capacity limit of the device firmware is exactly, but 40 GB is possible and quite inexpensive (~US$130 for an IBM Travelstar the last time I looked). In fact, several vendors sell new Archos Recorders pre-modded with 40 GB drives (warantee voided, of course). This has been discussed in several Archos forums and on the Rockbox [rockbox.haxx.se] mailing list. I personally have a laptop with a 40 GB drive which is nearing capacity. When the price of 60 or 80 GB 2.5" drives drops some, I plan on buying one of these big drives, then putting the laptop's 40G into my Archos 20 which I never thought I'd fill...
  • I was considering something of the same, only I was thinking of using it for a digital camera. Make my camera half inch thicker but several orders of magnitude more pictures. I didnt really research on doing it myself, more of thinking why hp/canon/etc dont do this already.
    • You stand a better chance getting a PDA with a
      PCMCIA slot for a microdrive (like a Compaq
      Jornada PC) and a USB to connect to the
      camera/MP3. Custom software on the PDA could
      retrieve/alter data automatically. Example
      code for exchanging with the camera is at gPhoto.

      For battery concerns, you could make the PDA sleep
      for 20 minutes at a time.

      Seriously, though, how much is your time worth? A
      new iPod starts to look attractive compared to
      two weeks of development.
      • Nah, only problem with that is most (all as far as I know, there may be an exception) of the PDAs on the market are missing the host USB controller chip -- so, for instance, you could not connect your camera to it and transfer files back and forth. It'll only connect upstream to another host (ie a Desktop PC).

        Please correct me if you know of any PDAs that can do this -- I'd love to have one!! I can think of so many uses...

        Or perhaps a PCMCIA USB adaptor? OF course, in your scenario the PDA would need two PCMCIA slots -- Compaq sells one for their IPAQ line, I believe.
    • Compact Flash is a pin swap for a standard IDE drive. If you REALLY wanted to you could add a laptop drive, and a battery (you would have to check with a manufacturer whether it takes 5v or 12v) connected to the camera by a highly modified ribbon cable. Laptop drives do take power along the main ribbon, so you might choose to forgo the additional battery, but you will certainly need to carry additional batteries for the camera... they weren't made to power a always spinning disk. And don't use a standard IDE drive unless you want a head crash.

      Hmm... Laptop to CF... It would probably work.
  • use fdisk to make a similar partition table on your new disk

    It probably has one or two partitions at the beginning before where the music is stored. Just use dd to copy those over to the new disk.

    If you are very unlucky the firmware may know the serial number or size of the old disk. Try grepping the images you ripped for such values along with the md5 checksum of various things.

    No offense: if you use winshit this is gonna take a LOT more work.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Umm, what are you talking about? A Nomad II doesn't have a hard disk. As the original poster said, it uses Smart Media memory. He wanted to know about adding a hard disk to it via a theoretical SM=>IDE adapter.

      As for adapters, I've never heard of any. IIRC Smart Media's pinout is the same as an ATA drive or something like that, so it should be possible if you knew the pinouts. Even if you made one, I doubt the firmware was designed with hard drives in mind, so you can forget about battery life. Most HD-based players use 4 AAs (I believe the Nomad II has 2AAAs, not nearly enough, so you'd need to add more batteries for the HD), and they only spin up the HD every few minutes to read data into a 8-32MB buffer, leaving it off most of the time to save on batteries. The Nomad probably just streams the data straight off its memory card, no buffering, which would mean if you hooked up a SM>IDE adapter + hard drive in place of the memory card, it would be reading off the HD all the time. I don't think I have to tell you that that's a Bad Thing(TM) for batteries.

      So to add a laptop hard drive to a Nomad II, you'd have to first find or make an IDE adapter for the smart media slot. Then find a way to attach the adapter and drive (which is about the same size of a Nomad and twice the weight) to the Nomad. Then find a way to attach a large car battery to the thing to power the hard drive for more than ten minutes. Or chain yourself to the wall with an AC adapter.

      I'd just recommend getting a Nomad Jukebox (that's the one with a HD, not the II, and upgrading the HD is fairly easy to do), Archos Jukebox (a bit smaller than the Nomad Jukebox, but still not really pocketable like the Nomad II), or a used/refurbished iPod (MUCH smaller and lighter than the other two, though you'll probably pay $100+ more for that luxury). MP3-CD players are also an option, if you don't mind burning a new disc every time you change your playlist or want to add a new song, and having only 700MB of music at a time.

      Hacking a solid-state memory mp3 player to be a fragile, bulky, battery-eating piece of crap just isn't worth it. There's just no way to do it elegantly and still keep it portable.
  • by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Friday January 03, 2003 @03:17AM (#5004658) Homepage
    Don't some MP3 player companies sell their "jukebox"-type units with no hard drive installed? I don't think Canada's laws impose that tariff on those units... You could then get a new or used notebook drive, and trip the MP3 fantastic.
  • Power (Score:3, Insightful)

    by den_erpel (140080) on Friday January 03, 2003 @03:52AM (#5004718) Homepage Journal
    You will have the storage capacity for hours of MP3 on your little player when attaching a HD, but only minutes of music:
    your HD will drain battery power, there is a good reason why there are no HDs in a handheld device in commercial products.
    If power is not your concern (you'll keep the supply close or plugged in), a HD is a possibility.

    If you want to upgrade your handheld, you'll have to look at e.g. flashcards.
    • Re:Power (Score:3, Informative)

      by gl4ss (559668)
      ... look out of the window, do some checking.

      ipod has hd, archos has hd, nomad has.. theres a freakin swarm of products out there that have harddrive.

      http://www.chipmunk.nl/iPod/ [chipmunk.nl] for a picture of opened ipod, that quite normal pcmcia hd look like flash to you?
    • Kewl :)
      Tnx for the link.

      Anyway, the remark is still valid, this only proves that it is cheaper to provide better batteries than including more power aware peripherals.

      Not a elegant solution if you ask me, but possibly the most economic one :(
      • Re:Power (Score:2, Informative)

        by bailey34 (589016)
        What exactly do you mean by "power aware". I don't know about the other HD MP3 players, but the iPod spins down its hard drive, after it has filled its memory (32 MB IIRC). Seems fairly power aware.

        I'm assuming this is fairly standard practice.
  • This is a very real problem, but not in the sense one desires more space on their mp3 player.

    All of our hardware will soon be legislated out of existance, crippled or taxed to death.

    It's time to advance the state of hardware, in a Linux and BSD sense. I'm not a hardware engineer, but then again I knew nothing of kernels, daemons, and networks in when I started using Linux.

    Here is where I'm starting [sourceforge.net], from this page you can get an idea of what is involved in FPGAs and get an appreciation of how much work is involved in hardware.

    I believe we need open hardware to prevent abuses to our freedoms. What good is Linux if we have nothing to run it on?
  • The New Tax (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Plus, being Canadian has it's downside: with the new 'tax' being applied to anything that can store music (another reference, here), MP3 players are set to double in price.
    Are you saying you don't think this new tax is fair? Don't you feel proud to (cough) give extra money to quality artists like Bryan Adamas (ack) or Celine Dion (uuurrgh)????? Don't you have any idea how much better the world looks upon Canadians for exporting that quality (burp) music?????

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I must watch my government approved TV shows, on my parental-chip controlled television, while murmuring thanks to my government for all the blessed taxes bestowed upon me.
  • by DiSKiLLeR (17651)
    Why not just buy an iPod?

    Its compatible with OSX, Windows, and Linux, has a 5gb, 10gb, or 20gb hdd (i am sure you can chuck a larger one in), runs for 10 hours straight, and isn't crippled in any way!

    You should have done your research before buying a crippled and limited piece of hardware.

    D.
    • Read the fscking question. It's not crippled or limited. It's just a little old, and has a small storage space. Like the 486 downstairs isn't actually a p4 that the RIAA haxored. It's just not as good. That said, it may be possible to add in another flash card. A lot of mp3 player will let you. It sounds like from the size you quoted (64 megs) your player uses flash memory of some sort. If it doesn't have a slot for more memory, you may be able to find out what sort it does use, open it up, and put in a bigger one. If they don't sell them, see if you can dig up a broken later model (as similar as possible, only with larger memory) and try swapping in the memory unit from that one.
    • Re:iPod (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Uh...I bought this for $5 second hand. Research wasn't required. Creativity, now though, is.
  • WE know (Score:2, Funny)

    by Rubbersoul (199583)
    Plus, being Canadian has it's downside

    Well no shit it does ... :)
  • nomad? (Score:2, Informative)

    by TREETOP (614689)
    smartmedia cards keep dropping in price. Wallyworld has a 512MB card for under 120 US$
  • Its small enough that I can just clip it to my waistband and have at least 2 hours of music to run / ski / cycle with without even knowing its there most of the time. I have the 128mb version and I could add a 128mb SM card for 256megs total. So thats roughly 4 hours of 128kb mp3s. Most of the time I have no desire at all for anything more.

    That being said if there was an hd unit I could plug in when I'm on trips I'd probably buy it. I'm not so concerned about the form factor then and it'd be nice to have more of my collection with me. Especially if it allowed me to transfer files to the internal memory and SD card so I only have to carry the smaller nomad when at my destination.

  • I think a MP3 player with dual compact-flash slots would be cool. With the space on compact flash, you could have a lot of memory. Of course, the battery drain would be considerable. :)

    What I don't understand is why doesn't anybody make an extendable player, where the user can add support for additional codecs via third party plugins?
    • What I don't understand is why doesn't anybody make an extendable player, where the user can add support for additional codecs via third party plugins?

      Because they'd have to add more memory for that, with dubious benefits. The vast majority of compressed music out there is still mp3. There isn't anything you can get in another codec that you can't get in mp3, so it really isn't worth the added expense, difficulty, and battery drain to have such a feature.

  • by Azerphale (137733) on Friday January 03, 2003 @12:17PM (#5006681)
    First lets clear up the specs of the Nomad IIc mp3 player (sorry, sign says "No oggs allowed"). The II designates this as the Creative's second effort to sucker users into paying good money for a player with some problems. The c means that you're not get the fm radio tuner present on the normal model II (don't worry, commercial radio is ass anyway). The IIc comes with an internal memory capacity of either 32, 64, or 128mb. Every model is also blessed/cursed to have a smartmedia expansion slot on the rear of the unit, tucked up under the battery cover. The unit has one Line Out/Headphone jack a built in microphone and a USB connector. Various buttons are also present for tinkering with things like volume, voice recording, and accessing the internal memory. The LCD is mercifully backlit with a delay that can be adjusted in the internal settings menu.

    One of the biggest shortcomings of the unit is the lack of file organisation. Files are present in one long list with no "search" or "jump" function. To go from song 5 to song 15 takes 10 clicks of the "skip right" button. Only while your nomad is connected to your computer are you able to sort this list of unhappiness. So connecting a 10Gig hard drive would give you an amazing amount of storage and an RSI of your index finger.

    The IIc does have updatable firmware (available from Creative [creative.com])which dictates the maximum size of the smartmedia card that the unit can take. Unfortunately there are no firmware updates for the 128mb version but the 64mb updates seem to work ok.

    Also, not to be forgotten, is the pox on the house of every Nomad user; Playcenter! This packaged in garbage software from Creative is the only way out of the box to store files on the your IIc to internal memory or smartmedia cards. The Nomad doesn't even show up as an external device in explorer. I've experienced repeated hangs/crashes when reading from 128mb smartmedia cards and long waits while it updates the database containing songs on my computer. Any respectable program should be able to handle a 6Gb+ mp3 collection without choking. The quick solution to this is Notmad Explorer [redchairsoftware.com] (the free version only allows the transfer of 1 file at a time $15 US for the single player version $35 for all nomad support).

    That's about it, so I present to you two major hurdles to overcome in hacking this little wonder:

    1) Powering the unit and an external HD on the go. The battery cover must be off to access the smartmedia slot so you run the risk of that AA battery popping out at inopportune times. Perhaps you could power both through a 12v cigarette lighter outlet of a car.

    2) Firmware. You'll have to become a master of rewriting the firmware or know someone who is to overcome the 128mb barrier, find some way to skip to a certain song, and allow folder organization for easy browsing.

    Perhaps some potential for expansion lies in the USB connection on the side of the player.

    Maybe instead of hacking away looking for a big storage fix, save your pennies and order a Zen [nomadworld.com] from another country.


  • Who the heck buys the MP3 players with 32-64MB of memory?

    It seems much too tedious to upload 1 tape's worth of music every time you want to listen to something new.

    Yes, I do know that it was cost prohibitive in the past to have 1GB players....Novelty item I guess.
  • by Chris Canfield (548473) <slashdot&chriscanfield,net> on Friday January 03, 2003 @03:16PM (#5008163) Homepage
    In case the other poster didn't bring it up, you can find updated drivers for the nomad IIc here [nomadworld.com], which will allow you to use 128 MB smart cards (if you can't already), which can be had for $40 [pricewatch.com] or less.

    The problem with going any further is that the driver for smartcards has to be on the device. Compact Flash cards have the driver on the card itself. It is a trivial matter to put in a 5 GB CF microdrive in CF 2 devices from 8 years ago, but it is impossible to use any particular smart media card unless the manufacturer has specifically programmed the device to be able to handle it. So unless you are willing to program the firmware for either the device or the recepticle, you probably aren't going to find what you are looking for*.

    Of course, if you do, please keep us posted. We've got a few somewhat useless Rio PMP 300's that would love to be PMPed out.

    Sorry, I've been saving that pun for years.

    -C

    *It's extremely unlikely, but theoretically possible, that you may be able to connect an IDE controller in place of the smart card controller, but I really doubt it.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Homebrew MP3 Players

    http://ee.cleversoul.com/mp3_projects.html

    While it might not the best idea to add a hard drive to a Nomad, this thread did come up with a few cool tidbits like the do-it-yourself MP3 players.
  • Some smart card specs, [216.239.33.100], an IDE controller pinout [bbdsoft.com]. Very different, sadly.
  • So SmarCard players are clearly out, because the media isn't smart enough. CompactFlash might work because the controller is on the card. What other media formats common to players might work? MultiMediaCard has the controller on the card, I think. Could an IDE laptop drive be retrofitted?

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